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Business major customizes her education with Parisian experience

With plans of becoming a merchandise buyer, Allison Cox seeks out internship in world’s fashion mecca

Tuesday Aug 04, 2015

When Allison Cox stepped off the plane after her two-month internship in Paris this summer, her luggage was bursting with about 10 shopping bag’s worth of clothes she’d picked up in boutiques in the fashion mecca.

But filling her closest, though exhilarating, wasn’t the primary reason for the trip. The 21-year-old business major at Indiana University Northwest does love fashion, but the trip gave her so much more than a boost to her wardrobe. It gave her an invaluable piece to her education.

Combining her love for the French language and culture, her passion for fashion, and a desire to make a stable living, she came up with the idea to customize her education for a particular niche in the business world as a merchandise buyer.

Cox, of St. John, returned to the states as fluent in French as a non-native Parisian can be. She returned with experience working with people in the very career she is seeking. She returned with a sense of what it’s like to do business internationally and with a broader world view in general.

“It was a mind-expanding experience,” Cox said. “I don’t think I am the same person that I was before I left. When you are immersed in another lifestyle, another way of living, it really changes your mind about a lot of things.”

Such are the perks of an IU Northwest education for students who know where to look and are determined enough to pursue experiential learning opportunities like Cox did.

Ever since the Lake Central High School graduate walked into IU Northwest, she knew she wanted to include a study abroad experience in her college education. She found a program through IU Bloomington that sent about a dozen students from across the U.S. to various internships in Paris.

A part-time French tutor and sandwich shop manager, Cox saved money for years in order to be able to have this experience. Her parents offered some assistance, too, but the best help of all came from two scholarships that reduced the financial burden significantly.

In addition to a $500 scholarship from IU Bloomington recognizing her academic achievement, Cox was also awarded the Frank Caucci Scholarship. Named for the late professor who passed away suddenly in 2011, the $2,500 scholarship was established to offset some of the costs of studying abroad for academically deserving modern languages students.

In May, Cox moved in with a non-English-speaking couple in a suburb of Paris and quickly found herself immersed in the French language and culture.

“I just dropped myself into it,” she said. “The first day, I was so scared. I was so nervous. I was in a new country and living with people I didn’t know and working with people I had never met.”

Cox translated her company’s name to “Fashion Consultancy,” a start-up business of four people which helps upcoming designers develop their brand for the fashion market. In her role, she worked to help the designers make their merchandise more marketable to their audiences.

“I met with buyers and learned about their thought process when purchasing clothing,” Cox said. “Also, we did a showroom for the buyers. It was called ‘China in Paris.’ Designers from China would come to sell their clothing in Paris. I ended up doing modeling for the buyers. That was unexpected and really fun to do.”

Until her trip abroad, Cox knew just one way of life. Living and working abroad taught her how differently people communicate with one another and handle professional and personal situations.

“You learn different things in both everyday life and in business,” Cox explained. “That was really important for me to experience considering I am minoring in French and I want to go international with my career.”

Clearly a natural fit for the fashion industry, Cox somehow finds time to dabble in the creative side of things. Just as a painter looks at a blank canvas and turns it into art, Cox looks at basic clothing and upcycles it into something original.

A vest purchased at a resale shop for $3 becomes an embellished treasure thanks to some gems and funky fabric. The savvy business woman in her then resells the piece for $8.

Cox sets an example for how to customize one’s education. She has learned through experience that if you know what you want, chances are you will find it if you do a little research and network with IU Northwest’s ever-helpful faculty.

“It’s all about networking. When you know what you want to do, reach out to those people in that department or who may know something about it,” she advises. “I know it’s easier said than done, but once you know the direction you want to take, it kind of falls to you. You start talking to professors and students and they start pushing you along toward what you want to do. I’ve noticed that here, especially in a smaller college setting, help is always available.”

Even though she is nearing the end of her undergraduate journey, the college senior is not finished looking for more opportunities to learn and grow. She anticipates other internships, hopefully with a Chicago retailer like Chanel.

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